LAUGHTER, JUST WHEN YOU NEED IT MOST
BY GAD, OLD MAN, YOU GOT HIM! appeared as a 4-page spread in the August 1931 issue of College Humor magazine. Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) had always commented about the power humor had to cut through in difficult moments and, during the Great Depression, Dr. Seuss’s humor was everywhere. The country needed considerable cheering up and prominent magazines of the day obliged with Ted Geisel and others who could elicit laughter.
While it was serious business to be published (it ultimately gave rise to Ted’s popularity and helped paved the way for his career as author and illustrator), Ted always insisted that we should look at life “through the wrong end of the telescope.” He seemed to understand that laughter can transcend any particular time or place and still help to make us smile whenever we need it most. Eighty-five years later, By Gad seems to prove him right.
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LIFE'S LESSONS TRANSFORMED
During the late 1800s, Ted Geisel’s grandfather helped found the riflery club in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father and, surprisingly, his mother were both expert “marksmen.” For Ted’s dad it was an all-consuming hobby. Ted recalled, “I always thought it was silly and unproductive. It was shooting holes in a paper target.” However, he embraced the underlying value of this pursuit, commending his father: “…he was an inspiration. ‘Whatever you do,’ he taught me, ‘do it to perfection.’”
And that he did. Ted was a deft marksman, targeting life’s experiences and turning them into universal truths—all within a storyline for us to relate to our own life experiences.
In By Gad, Ted not only gives the world welcome relief and suspends belief, he seems to honor his parents and their passionate pastime. He allows each of us to think about our own life’s target and how our childhood experiences contribute to hitting our own personal bullseye.
Perhaps most importantly, Ted seems to suggest that our life’s journey need not be straight. In fact, most of us could agree that our own paths are a wacky, non-linear trajectory toward our life’s goals . . . and that we have likely dodged a “bullet” or two along the way.
THE ZOO IN TED'S HEAD
In By Gad we are confronted with winged elephants, smiling crocodiles, laughing birds, and a monkey swinging from the tails of two goat-like creatures—all of them together creating a quintessential Seussian view of the world. Here animals take on uncanny human emotions and fill the image with boundless humor.
By Gad, however, appeared six years before Ted wrote his first children’s book (1937) and decades before some of his most popular characters were first conceived. From an early age, Ted seemed to draw upon his love for animals and the times spent with his father at the Forest Park Zoo, where his father oversaw park operations. He also seemed to be a keen observer of the “characters” around him, many times transforming someone’s unique characteristics into a furry or horned creature.
The 1930s were a flurry of such artistic transformations for Ted, working in both drawing and sculpting. Alongside the creation of By Gad, Ted began developing one of the most significant bodies of work of his entire career. His Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy was a series of Seussian animals brought to life with the incorporation of real animal horns and beaks. And, just as By Gad seemed inspired by Ted’s father, so too was his taxidermy project. Ted’s dad is the one who gave him the original horns and beaks, hoping they may spark his son’s creativity.